Open Heart: Buddhism, New Religion Or Something Else?
In the following text I would like to clarify a few common misunderstandings regarding Open Heart-teachings and myself. I’ll answer to these below, as a response to the comments by Erik on Facebook. I’ll also write about other relevant experiences.
For years I’ve kept hearing a lot of weird rumours about myself and OH in various Buddhist groups and by various Buddhist parties. I hope that especially those with strong opinions about me and Open Heart will take a moment to read this text in its entirety. I’ve linked to several additional texts to provide the reader with the whole picture. It will take time to go through the links, but after doing so, the reader will have a clear perception of what Open Heart is and what it is not. I thank you for your time.
To begin with I want to state that Open Heart is a group practicing what is called pragmatic dharma. If this definition is not familiar to the reader, I recommend reading the following article:
Vincent Horn: Core Features of Pragmatic Dharma:
As a pragmatic dharma community and method, Open Heart’s ways differ clearly from traditional Buddhism. Among other things, these characteristics include open discussion about spiritual experiences and attainments, and allowing all kind of discussion and questions (there are no taboos). With these two characteristics alone, there is a notable difference to traditional Buddhism, in which these elements tend to not be present.
When it comes to doctrine, Open Heart represents Mahayana, or more specifically Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism. Our main practice, Open Heart Yoga, is a Tantric practice with all the essential characteristics, beginning with empowerment. Much information about our other practices can be found through our website and Youtube channel.
Because Vajrayana Buddhism has such strong connections to Tibet and its culture in people’s perception, it would be good for the reader to read the following text by David Chapman. In the text he explains how Vajrayana Buddhism is not synonymous with Tibetan Buddhism.
David Chapman, Vajrayana is not Tibetan Buddhism:
Pragmatic Tantra And Its Unofficial Position
Tantric Buddhism, although sharing its primary goal with Mahayana Buddhism, is deeply connected to mysticism. If we familiarise ourselves with the teachings of the masters of Tantric Buddhism and their biographies, we will encounter recurring references to mystical experiences. A person who is unfamiliar with the subject may think these experiences to be products of imagination or religious woo-woo. However, for me these experiences and visions began as a small child, without anyone speaking of, instructing or teaching me anything about them. I received my first meditation instructions from my Judo teacher as a seven-year-old boy. I have given an account of these experiences in this interview, for example, which I hope the reader will listen to:
All Open Heart-teachings have been received mystically. As far as I am familiar with the Tibetan tradition of tertons, the discoverers of dharma treasures, I can only state that my wife and I have received teachings in a similar manner.
As yogic teachings based firmly on universal Buddhist principles, the philosophy of emptiness and bodhicitta, it is irrelevant whether anyone believes that we received them directly or not. This belief does not matter any more than it mattered in the case of the Tibetan tertons, as in the end everyone has to verify the validity of the teachings by themselves. Anyone can try these teachings without any sort of a commitment to Open Heart.
I recommend getting familiar with the Awake! Handbook of Awakening, for example. Our Youtube channel also contains a large amount of guided Tantric practices which do not require empowerment, and do not bind the one trying them out in any way to Open Heart or myself.
A collection of Open Heart-practitioners’ comments exists in text and in video format.
No high-ranking Tibetan lama has authorised me in any way. Although I participate in Tibetan Buddhist teachings now and then, I have no formal relationship with any line of teachings of a Tibetan lineage. Thus, I am an outsider to the Tibetan Buddhist institution. Of course, I do have friends and acquaintances, some of them Tibetan Buddhist lamas. Their comments of endorsements, however, do not have any formal importance, nor are their statements authorisations. Even the fact that one lama has included the Two-Part Formula in their own teachings is irrelevant in this manner.
A couple of Nyingma-school lamas have regarded me and my wife as tertons and me as a reincarnation (tib. tulku) of a certain famous Tibetan yogi, but these conversations over coffee carry no formal significance. I am not a part of the Tibetan Buddhist institution, nor have I ever claimed to be.
As a sidenote regarding the previous paragraph let it be said that my unorthodox position is problematic because 0f the vast majority of the dharma culture around us being based on certificates and authorisations. I hope that one day some high lama like HH Dalai Lama, HH Karmapa or some other senior lama will hear of Open Heart and will investigate, or will be mentally capable to directly perceive what is true. But high lamas, like HH Dalai Lama or HH Karmapa are almost impossible to reach, especially for an outsider like myself, with no contact to the schools they represent, their teachings or even Tibetan Buddhism as a whole.
This situation would have been significantly less difficult 20 years ago when more lamas of the old Tibet still lived. The younger generation of lamas simply have not practiced and progressed in their yogic skills the same way their predecessors had. If, however, an acknowledgement or recognition does come at some point in time, it would certainly help my own, as well as Open Heart’s position in Buddhist culture.
Nevertheless, even with a recognition of this kind, every practitioner still has to recognise the validity of the teachings through their own practice. As far as formal recognitions from tertons are concerned, they do not in any way guarantee that the terton is advanced in their practice. No outer recognition or authorisation guarantees true comprehension of the dharma or the nature of the mind.
Despite the unofficial status, Open Heart still represents pragmatic Tantric Buddhism. Open Heart -teachings contain no new inventions, despite our ways of practice having some unique characteristics ( such as Two-Part Formula, dynamic concentration, practising several tantric deities simultaneously).
Open Heart And Ethical Values
Our staff, teachers and guides have committed themselves to universal dharma ethics, such as honesty and doing no harm. They will also have signed the following Safeguarding Policy: http://www.en.openheart.fi/34248
Question & Answer
Erik K.: Can Open Heart Sangha be called Buddhist? Looking at the website, it contains many theories in great conflict with traditional Buddhism. For example, the peculiar “bhumi theory”, which mixes Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana and Vajrayana.
Kim: I doubt that our website truly contains “many theories” in “great conflict” with traditional Buddhism. Of course, I do not know what is your idea of “traditional Buddhism”.
First of all, Buddhism is an enormous whole, encompassing all kinds of things. Secondly, the same thing applies to Mahayana Buddhism alone. Thirdly, it also applies to Vajrayana Buddhism. And finally, Buddhism has always been a living entity, constantly giving birth to new ways of interpreting the core principles and teachings. This applies to all Buddhist vehicles and movements and has been happening all throughout Buddhist history.
Additionally, it is noteworthy to point out that each time this renewal has happened, it has created resistance in the orthodox communities. In my opinion, justifiable criticism is a good and welcomed, but discrimination and violence I do not accept in any form. Neither at the level of thought, speech or action.
Whether Open Heart -teachings truly are Buddhist can be judged by anyone themselves based on the enormous amount of materials available. A quote from one of my students:
”I studied the texts of Buddhism, including Mahayana and Tantra, and figured out that what you teach is according to the scriptures, except that Open Heart teachings are stripped off of any baggage.”
Of course, it is true that regarding the Open Heart Bhumi Model, for example, our method differs from the mainstream. In the prologue to my second book, What’s Next? On Post-Awakening Practice, I have said:
This book is mostly about Open Heart Bhumi Model, abbr. OHBM. It is not an ancient or established teaching and no Eastern lineage of Buddhism teaches it.
The book can be downloaded for free from here: http://www.en.openheart.fi/35532
Buddhism has a large amount of various path maps, both as a whole and regarding specific vehicles. OHBM is the map that Open Heart-practitioners use for their practice and development. I continue in my book:
However, as far as I am aware, none of the established schools use the traditional expositions of bhumis as their path maps, either. I have had opportunities to ask a few Vajrayana specialists whether they knew if anything similar was done in Tibetan Buddhism and was given a negative answer. A Tibetan translator in his lecture said, ”To be honest, if you ask a Tibetan today whether they have read the Bodhisattvabhumi, I don't think you'll find too many that have”. It seems that the whole idea of bhumis as a practice has been forgotten, although the theory still lingers here and there. I do not know the exact reason for this but I assume it is because things get lost and change over time. On the other hand, it might be due to the fact that bhumis are about energy and energetic factors, such as channels and vital currents (skt. prana), which makes it esoteric, hard or impossible to understand, without indepth guidance from an expert. If it ever existed, such knowledge could have been lost in few short generations, if knowledge wasn't properly passed on, unlike teachings based on scriptures that are pretty straightforward.
The core idea of OHBM is easy to understand, but understanding it properly takes time and practice, as with any other map. It is simply naive to denounce a path map based on superficial familiarisation with it. Furthermore, as mentioned before, OHBM differs from every other model I know of, in that it is not based solely on exchange of words in its use. I’ve witnessed that only using written descriptions for the purpose of creating path maps leads to difficulties for practitioners.
In any case, the bhumi openings and perfections represented in OHBM are unquestionably Buddhist yoga. We talk about bhumi openings just as Zen Buddhists talk about kenshos and satoris, Tibetan Buddhists talk about semngo tropa or dakme thokpey sherab (source: Erik Pema Kunsang, http://www.en.openheart.fi/35937), and Theravada Buddhists talk about paths within their own context.
Sokuzan Brown, a teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist kagyu- and the Japanese Soto Zen -tradition says:
"There is only one awakening. There is not a shikantaza awakening, mahamudra awakening, zen awakening or tantric awakening. There is only reality. If you awaken to it, you know it. You are not in doubt, you are in certainty."
Brown uses the word “reality”, with which he refers to the empty nature of mind (sunyata) and awakening to it. OHBM measures the progression or depth of this emptiness realisation based on 13 bhumis. It observes and studies changes in the subtle body, that is, the energetic body of the practitioner.
As far as “the peculiar bhumi theory mixing up Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana and Vajrayana” goes, in this context it must be understood that all Buddhist vehicles share the teaching about the empty or no-self-containing (sunyata/anatta) nature of things. Mahayana, as much as Vajrayana, are based on the Hinayana-level realisation.
In OHBM the arhat level of Hinayana relates to the perfection of bhumis 1 - 6. The perfection of bhumis 7 - 10 relates to the boddhisattva stages, and when the 10th perfects, the practitioner becomes a living buddha due to their selfing and mind phenomena having been wholly seen through (vipashyana).
This can probably be viewed as a “mix” of different vehicles, but it is important to remember that OHBM measures the depth of the emptiness realisation in a universal way. Besides, all Mahayana practitioners begin from Hinayana-level realisations (emptiness of subject – and object selves) despite their motivation being practice for the sake of all beings.
Erik: Kim Katami claims to be a mahasiddha and to reside in the Open Heart Sangha’s 13th bhumi (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SHsjIJyKFZQ).
Kim: I do not and have never claimed to be a mahasiddha. This, quite common misunderstanding has happened because you have nor familiarised yourself with the Open Heart Bhumi Model, and especially the difference between bhumi openings and perfections.
Erik: In Buddhism there are 10 bhumis, and the 11th bhumi is already a perfect Buddha, like Sakyamuni. Avalokiteshvara and Manjushri are said to reside on the 10th bodhisattva bhumi.
Kim: This clarifies your conception of Buddhism to the degree that you seem to be used to the ten bhumi model:
It most certainly is not the only traditionally established bhumi model: https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Bhumi
Bhumis can thus be defined in various ways. In OHBM there are 13 bhumis, of which the perfection of bhumis 1 - 10 refers to the purification of the entire karmic body, and thus to attaining the first level of buddhahood (11th bhumi), as was the case for Shakyamuni Buddha. 12th and 13th bhumis relate to the continued stages of being a Buddha, that is, the rainbow body, which is especially discussed in the Tibetan Buddhist schools Kagyu, Nyingma and Bön.
In the spirit of pragmatic dharma I would like to state that even though the attainment of a “perfect buddha” is immeasurable, every buddha in the past, present and future times, realizes their attainment through the empty nature of the mind and phenomena.
It is important to understand that when you, me, or any practitioner experiences an awakening, or a kensho, or a semngo tropa, it is about seeing into the very same empty nature of things as for every buddha and bodhisattava. How would the realization of theirs and that of our own be any different, except in its extent?
I relate to accomplished buddhas and mahasiddhas with sincerity and respect but also regard buddhist dharma as a hypothesis, a opportunity to accomplish complete Buddhahood ourselves. In this regard I do notput buddhas or buddhahood on a pedestal, out of our reach.
Erik: Quite the claim from Kim, who also mentioned not believing in miracles, despite the fact that a mahasiddha should not have trouble walking on water, through walls, flying or doing other miracles.
Kim: I have not said that I do not believe in miracles. Instead I have said, that I have never seen an actual “miracle”, an event that would defy the laws of physics. I have heard of stories about miracles both within Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, but there is no credible evidence to any of these events. To be honest, I don’t regard hand- or footprints imprinted in stone as proper evidence, as they can be carved in and be charged with spiritual power afterwards. Thus, I have never witnessed a real miracle but do not deny their possibility either.
Daniel Ingram, one of the founders of pragmatic dharma, comments on the traditional bhumi model in his book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha,
”This is probably a good time to introduce the Tibetan Ten Bodhisattva Bhumi Model. The word “bhumi” mean ground, or something like level. It is a model of progressive stages of enlightenment that gets very different emphases depending on the author, but one of those emphases has to do with powers and how many duplicates of one’s self one can manifest psychically. I actually like the Bhumi model, as other takes on it have to do with giving up the notion of personal territory and realizing shunyata or emptiness and deeply integrating that into our perception, paradigm, practice, and personality. It is a model that addresses many fronts, only one of which unfortunately is the powers... The details of the Ten Bhumi Model can be found in various Mahayana texts, such as “The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom” and “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation”. Chogyam Trungpa gives a nice description of it in The Myth of Freedom. Some texts also list other numbers of bhumis, such as 7 or 13, but they all share similar elements... It is a very complex model that ascribes a wide range of exceedingly high and complex criteria involving emotions, paradigms, concentration abilities, perceptions, psychic powers and a whole host of other aspects to those of each stage. Thus, from my point of view, it is fraught with problems and assumes simultaneous, synchronised development on numerous axes, a notion I consider a bit naive and idealised. However, like most of the teachings, it contains some very interesting points made in what I consider very unfortunate ways... The biggest problem with this model is that it delineates the number of duplicates of one's self that one should be able to manifest as bodhisattvas at each bhumi, and as the bhumis progress the numbers quickly get so large as to be absurd. Why some whack job included this bizarre ideal of many-fold bi-location in the model I have no idea, but somehow no Tibetan since has had the balls to throw it out, and so a thousand years later they are still stuck with it.”
Ingram presents his thoughts in a very colourful manner but is simultaneously right about many things. To me it looks like what has happened to other old texts has also happened to Buddhist classics. They have been edited so much throughout the centuries that their substance has been clouded, and the content of the texts are hard to relate with concrete practice. When personal experience of the empty nature accumulates, however, it gets easier to see through symbolisms and idealisation.
In this text Ken McLeod, an expert in Vajrayana Buddhism and a teacher with a long career talks about source texts losing their meaning: https://openheartopenheart.blogspot.com/2019/01/ken-mcleod-meaning-of-scriptures.html
Traditional bhumi accounts put weight on miracles and other factors exceeding the laws of the physics. However, the core of the issue crystallises in the following quotation of Guru Rinpoche, from the book Advice from the Lotus-Born:
”Although your body remains human, your mind arrives at the stage of buddhahood”.
Erik: Anyways, it is weird to see videos that “prove” attainments, bhumis. I have not seen such an act by anyone else.
Kim: That no one has done it before does not mean that it cannot be done, nor that it is not possible to sense the attainment of another from an image or a video like in real life. That you regard it as weird and as ”proof” of attainments is your own opinion. In Open Heart Sangha we have the habit of documenting the progress of a practitioner with pictures or videos.
See a playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq-Ulm8dH7A&list=PLqTm9fV9DGhvQjdBRYAM45uWuLUwmbqiM
My book What’s Next contains pictures of practitioners at various stages of Open Heart Bhumi Model, beginning from page 59.
In the following quote, Shinzen Young, a well-known buddhist teacher (shingon, theravada, rinzai zen) gives an account of the first time he saw people photographed in a state of no-self:
”I was at a student's house and I saw this book. Its one of these photo books that people would put on coffee tables. What's interesting is that there's nothing by the photographer, the author of the book, but there is an intro, a preamble by Tony Morrison who is a fairly important person in the world of art and literature. This tells you that this is a significant book but there is nothing by the person who actually took the photos, in other words the photos have to speak for themselves. Its this huge book of photographs (indicates a large size) and I start to look through these photographs. These are all portraits and I'm freaking out because its very evident to me what this book is about and I had never seen a book like this, ever. I go to my friend and say, ”This book is amazing!” and she says, ”The photographer, is a distant relative of mine”. ”Well, can you get his telephone number?”, I asked. We called him up and he was there. I told him what I thought his book was about and he freaked out. He said that I was the only person who ever understood what the book was about, of all the people that had seen it at exhibitions or whatever. The name of the book is A Kind of Rapture by Robert Bergman. He went through the rust belt of United States, the old decaying cities, photographing street people, who for whatever reason, usually a combination of hard life and physical, and mental illness, had been thrust into a no-self state, in other words, people for whom the blows of life had driven them to a rapturous no-self experience. He went around the country looking for those kind of people, catching them at the moment when they manifested non-ego, that their hard life had taken them to. You know, if you see one or two pictures like that it doesn't have an impact like that but if you see 50 pictures like that, picture after picture after picture, then it hits you, what the whole thing is about. The reason why I thought they were so extraordinary is that although there is a lot of books about enlightenment or no-self coming about through practice, and there are number of books written by people who have had spontaneous enlightenment experiences, what no one has looked at is this whole thing, this whole other aspect. In terms of a subject matter it is very unusual and the message and the medium is very unusual. Instead of writing a book, talking about this phenomena, he shows it to you and you either get it or you don't.”
Source: Shaktipat or Energy Transmission in Buddhism, 25:00 minutes: https://youtu.be/HGmU1oVroLM?t=1499
Thus it is possible to do this.
Erik: There’s room for religions here in the world and Open Heart Sangha can certainly fit in, but it does not seem to follow Buddhist traditions. Just to let those who wish to get familiar with the Buddha’s teachings know.
Kim: Open Heart is not a religion. Previously, I referred to the definition of pragmatic dharma. We work on and authenticate the classical Mahayana Buddhist hypothesis with our own Tantric practice.
Regarding our Buddhist teachings, I can briefly mention the Four Noble Truths, refuge in three ordinary and two Tantric jewels, bodhicitta; the practicing for the sake of all beings in samsara, dedicating merit, lay ordination, the empty nature of the mind and the goal of attaining Buddhahood in this life.
Tantric core elements include empowerments, deities, visualisations, Guru Yoga, mantras, nadis, chakras, mudras and prana, and are the exact same ones as in Tibetan Buddhist Tantric teachings, although the outer form is significantly simplified.
Furthermore, we practice from the point of view of the so called two truths, the absolute and relative truths that the Mahamudra teachings speak about. From the beginning of the practice, Open Heart -practitioners get pointed to the naturally cognisant foundation of the mind (tib.rigpa), which gives our approach a heavy dzogchen emphasis. What part of this is not Buddhist?
The Meaning Of Authenticity
Erik: Good luck on your path, though I still do not believe Kim to have an authentic Buddhist lineage behind him, but as I said there is room here in the world for views and different religions. In Buddhism, lineage is emphasized enormously because it traces its roots to Buddha Sakyamuni. The meaning of lineage is especially emphasized in Vajrayana.
Lineage always begins from a master, who has (possibly) realised something. They teach their realisation forward and this creates a lineage. Even if the master dies, there is someone to carry on the tradition, and they have the same understanding as or at least have received the full teachings from their master.
Kim: The question about an authentic lineage verifying a teaching is questionable in several aspects.
First of all, it is known that lineages currently regarded as authentic have been “fixed up” posthumously. The teacher-student-connection has severed in many traditions, but have been fixed up afterwards and put together into documents regarded as official. Secondly, Buddhism has entire schools founded by people with no formal competence.
I’ll mention, for example, the Japanese Pure Land school, founded by Honen, and Rinzai Zen, resuscitated by Zen master Hakuin. Both of these examples are currently accepted and recognized.
All contemporary Rinzai lineages come from Hakuin, who had no dharma transmission. Therefore, with your logic, you can brush away all Zen lineages reciting Hakuin’s name in the morning. There are a lot of them as Hakuin was the most wanted Zen master of this time in Japan.
As a sidenote I’ll mention that the “validity” of a teaching or a lineage is a significantly larger question for a Westerner who is used to testimonies and verifications, than it is for an Easterner.
Buddhist teacher and academic, Acarya Malcom Smith, says:
”The tantras do not say, "Examine master so and so for his lineage recognitions, endorsements, associates, etc." What do they say? They mention nothing about lineage heads, etc. They only mention the personal qualities and learning of the prospective master in question.”
A teacher having an official dharma transmission does not prove their true understanding of Buddhist practice, that is, it does not measure their realisation. Many “valid” teachers teach completely external things and only focus on the continuance of the tradition and its form, which they hold dearly. In some cases, even despite it being completely clear that the tradition and its method of practice is not that powerful. A great example of this is Buddhism in Japan, which has withered for two hundred years already.
I have even come across an American Zen master, who was not at all bothered by the fact that one teacher of his lineage, having progressed through the entire koan system, had never had a single kensho. Anyone with an understanding of koan practice, knowing its fundamental purpose, can understand how weird this is.
This to-be-graduated teacher even stated in his speech that a kensho is not actually important. This is like saying that buddhanature is not important in Buddhism. Nevertheless, the Zen master stated that his trust in the traditional practice method would hold. How do you imagine a teacher like that would be able to point their students towards their buddhanature?
There is, however, nothing new about this, as this is how the orthodox operate in any religion, including Buddhism. They are the ones who immediately close their ears if you cannot display a certificate. They measure external factors without observing content. This is one more of the significant differences between orthodox and pragmatic dharma. One key idea of pragmatic dharma is using whatever gets the job done. Considering that the main purpose of dharma is to remove dukkha, the logic of only looking at certificates makes no sense. I do not consider a person without a notably clear and bright mind to have Buddhist authority. Whether the mind is clear or not is measurable and visible with the OHBM.
Third of all, it is justifiable to question the credibility of Buddhist teacherhood by reflecting on the recurrent scandals connected to formally qualified teachers. These scandals and cases of abuse (sexual, psychological, physical, financial) are numerous. I can mention e.g. Sogyal, Trungpa, Mipham (1, 2, 3), Norlha, Kalu, Sasaki, Shimano, Maezumi, Katagiri, Genpo and so on. This list is not comprehensive, just a scratch on the surface. All of them have been involved in larger scandals discussed in public, and each one of them has an “authentic lineage”.
Smaller cases where a teacher has, for example, lied or behaved outrageously have occurred in Finland, too. For example, a Zen teacher active in our country, a mental health professional by profession, persuaded a student significantly younger than him to smoke cannabis with him, after which he made sexual advances on the student. Despite the teacher making an apology to his group, this whole episode makes this teacher questionable. If something like this happened in any other subject field between a teacher and a student, it would make a lot of noise and firing the teacher would at the least be discussed.
In my mind, cases like this are common enough to question the methods followed and taught by these teachers. It is fully clear that traditional methods can succeed and fail. In this context it can be mentioned that there also exists a bunch of traditionally authorised teachers, who have seen through the hypocrisy of their tradition and resigned from it.
I think that an understanding of the empty nature of mind is the most important authorisation. My own Zen calligraphy master, Terayama Tanchu Sensei, a Rinzai Zen master, was a case like this. He went through the traditional koan-system and was the principal heir of his teacher Omori Sogen Roshi in Japan. He was, however, of the opinion that the koan system was not very powerful and did not teach it for this reason. He did not give a formal dharma transmission either, instead asking some of his students, myself included, to carry on his legacy.
Thinley Norbu Rinpoche explaining the meaning of a lineage:
"Some people think lineage depends on a teacher. Especially some easterners believe that westerners cannot have lineage because they are not linked from birth to a spiritual teacher. Unless we are nihilists and believe only in the visible, we cannot judge the spiritual qualities of someone who has no visible teacher in this life. If someone takes water from the tap because we have not seen them take it from the source, is this reason to say it is not water? On a pilgrimage, pilgrims need a guide at first, but when they know the path, they can go alone. In the end, just because they have no visible guide, we cannot say they do not know the path. Of course, for most people lineage depends on a visible teacher and in general if we can find a good teacher it is necessary to have a guide. But according to the Buddhist tradition, if we believe in karma, we believe that because some people had a visible teacher in previous lives and have experience with the pure essence of their elements, they can be reborn to become enlightened without depending on a visible teacher in this life. Even if we have one hundred teachers, when we separate from our natural mind, we have broken lineage. Even if we have no teacher, when we are connected to our natural mind, we have true Wisdom Mind lineage."
Zen master Joshu on the prioritisation of things:
“Even though it be someone seven years old, if he or she is spiritually my superior, I will ask that person to instruct me. Even though it be someone a hundred years old, if he or she is spiritually less advanced than I, I will give him or her instruction.”
Teacherhood And Making Dharma Available
Erik: I feel greatly bewildered by many things in Open Heart and in Kim’s teachings, but we all carry the responsibility for our own actions. And as a teacher especially, also because the fact that if you teach what the Buddha taught, you keep up the tradition of Buddha and are not mixing in your own delusion to the Buddhadharma. A teacher has a responsibility to lead their student to the right direction, not to deeper delusion. With regards to this, lineage plays a role, as well as one having received an authorisation to teach from one’s own master. In Tantric Buddhism the teacher-student relationship is especially important and the teacher has a special responsibility about their students. If a student gets into the hells, the teacher goes after them. This is the responsibility of a teacher.
Kim: I am well aware of the responsible position of a teacher, and the people who know me know well how seriously I take my job. I have worked as a full-time teacher for over 10 years and I have around 80 students worldwide, most of them in England and Ireland. I’ll mention that around a quarter (25%) of this group has practiced buddhism for more than 20 years before their Open Heart-practice. One student wrote this:
”I took buddhist refuge almost 30 years ago but in the beginning did not seriously practice meditation, usually only read prayers. I was a student of a Tibetan buddhist lama for 16 years, and also received empowerments from the Dalai Lama. When I received empowerment of Open Heart Yoga, I felt an extremely strong energy. I have never felt such before. It was very comfortable. I experienced a shift, opening of 5th bhumi, during the empowerment, that revealed how the reality is empty of self. The way how you teach Refuge and Bodhichitta was a grand discovery. I have been reading the text of Refuge since 19 years old and never had such a profound effect. The same with Bodhichitta. Very intimate and deep feelings. Thank you again!”
A while ago I found out about a Buddhist tutor with a long career in Finland, who says that Open Heart -teachings are “dangerous” and potentially harmful to one’s mental health. In my opinion, it is strange that this Buddhist tutor mentions the endangerment of mental health, because this gives the impression of this being a real risk to Open Heart practitioners. The reference is unfounded and has no factual basis. They also criticise the use of Internet (empowerments transmitted through Internet) in our activities, and the teachings costing money, as well as me not having authentic dharma heritance.
About the teachings having a price, both myself and the other full-time Open Heart-teacher are laymen, which involves financial obligations. Despite our teachings having a set price, no one has ever been left out due to lacking funds, and those less well-off have been encouraged to negotiate a discounted payment if necessary. People who are able to afford only a nominal payment regularly attend our teachings. As far as the future is concerned, we are currently working on a funding system for our community to allow all teachings and retreats to be fully free of charge.
Teachings transmitted through Internet, including Tantric empowerments, are commonplace these days. Ten years ago, they were not but since then this has become more common. So the fact that I transmit empowerments through Internet is not unique or exceptional in any way. Tibetan Buddhist lamas give Tantric empowerments as well as pointing out-instructions through the Internet. Also, Zen teachers give dokusans, personal guidance, through the Internet.
The question about mental health is always valid when it comes to dharma. In general, I do not teach people who suffer from psychoses or schizophrenia due to that preventing the person from seeing the difference between fantasy and reality. If I was to be approached by a person with this kind of a background, I would require a written permission from a doctor and continuous professional monitoring in order to give any kinds of meditation instructions.
If, then, we talk about ”authenticated” Buddhism in its relation to mental health problems, many articles provide evidence for the occurrence of it. Also, reading Internet forums focused on Buddhism and dharma shows this.
It is not uncommon to read how inexperienced meditators at their first retreats experience sudden, powerful anxiety and destabilisation of the mind, which is then treated as dualistic delusion of the mind by teachers who do not understand the subject matter. This has happened in Finland, too, as you can read from the Ihmisten Puolesta-blog (in Finnish): http://ihmistenpuolesta.blogspot.com/
As the founder and main teacher of Open Heart I have thought a lot about the form of our practice and retreats. I have spent countless hours in traditional Buddhist retreats, seeing how one-sided the practice can be. Due to this, the form of our retreats is diverse. We do not simply sit and be quiet. Our way of practice involves reciting mantras and prayers, as well as singing.
We also exercise in many ways with yoga, dance and free-form stretching. In all our retreats, talking and discussing with other participants is encouraged, as this is how we behave normally outside of retreat. Discussion also helps people come out of their self-centred bubble which easily develops in silence, as well as in better integrating the retreat experience into normal life.
Rest time is abundant during both day and night, and despite the diet in our retreats being plant-based, there is dairy like milk, cheese and eggs available daily. A sudden change of diet can be difficult for the body and harm practice during a retreat. Additionally, for people used to heavy food, a strict vegetarian diet can cause downgrading of their energy levels and feeling excessively light e.g. in the form of dizziness of feeling weak.
In these ways, we have eliminated from our practice the ascetic characteristics which are very common in traditional settings. We have done this for almost the entirety of my teaching career, which begun in 2008.
Despite the diversity, I do not accept beginners whose bodyminds have not been used to the practice to our retreats. Likewise, I would never (if I taught these practices) accept beginners to Zen- or Vipassana-retreats that are silent and wherein one sits for over 8 hours a day meditating silently. This is because it has been seen over and over how bad mental health problems can be triggered by these traditional methods of teaching. I saw this in a Zen monastery while residing in Japan, as well, and do not support it.
Erik: In any case, good luck with your path, you, Kim, do make your own choices - including judging whether you are mature enough to lead others. Personally, I would be careful about becoming a teacher for others, before a living master (not a voice in the mind or a mental image of a guru) would give permission and say that one is mature enough to guide others. I am sure that Kim is certainly good-hearted, kind and friendly. But I think it is important to find out whether Kim has any_authentic_Buddhism in his group.
Kim: In the light of what I told previously it is childish to imagine that a formal authorisation would make a teacher qualified to lead others. Buddhist classics explain well what the purpose of the dharma is, but as I’ve said, an authorisation does not guarantee maturity, that is, yogic expertise.
Not all Buddhist factions are yogic in a similar fashion, some are more oriented towards. e.g. studying theory, but the writings of the masters do make it clear that the core of the dharma lies in the realisation of emptiness and its extent. My thanks to Erik for his appropriate commentary.
I welcome everyone to study what Open Heart-teachings are through our website, YouTube, and my blog.
Open Heart in YouTube:
This text may be linked freely, but I hope that out-of-context quotations will be refrained from.
Thank you and bows to all who have read this. Thanks to Akseli and Karl for English translation and stilisation.
- Kim Katami, 11.3.2019.